In December 31, 2009, mother of two Nicole McLaren Campbell walked away from her nine-to-five job to start her own business. Making the decision to become a teacher and entrepreneur was not an easy decision but one she had to make. "It has been most fulfilling, and I just cannot picture myself doing anything else," she told Flair with her always-present radiant smile. Teaching English and mathematics at MRC Learning Centre, tutoring in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies and serving as a senior policy analyst in the Ministry of Education led her to creating her very own institution, AIM.
Campbell is no stranger to aiming high and striving for excellence - it's something she has been doing her entire life, "Growing up, I never thought of a profession, but I knew that I wanted to do something constructive and I just wanted to have a positive impact." At the age of 13, while still a student at St Andrew High School for Girls, she represented Jamaica at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Junior Summit, highlighting issues of equity and access to technology in education.
Her thirst for knowledge led her to Phillips Academy Andover in the United States, and she pursued an undergraduate degree in economics at Princeton University. She went on to earn both a master's degree in globalisation and development and a postgraduate diploma in policy studies from the University of London, and studied on scholarship in the Summer Institute in mathematics at Stanford University. She returned home in 2008, devoting her well-needed services to the improvement of the educational system.
"Because I had been through three academic institutions abroad and working with the Ministry of Education and on the interview panel for Andover and Princeton, family, friends and persons who heard about me wanted me to help them. They were seeking advice on how to go about having their children take the SATs, writing application essays and the entire college application process and I gladly obliged - voluntarily." But then things started to change. "One day, I sat down with my husband, Jeffrey, and said, 'I could really do this. I wish I could do this full time because it's something I love doing. It was he who really supported me and encouraged me to make that professional switch, despite my financial fears." While working at the Ministry of Education, she tried balancing her job with teaching part-time. She told Flair that she felt that she was doing things halfway so she had to choose.
official SAT prep provider
Following her gut, she chose entrepreneurship and academia, giving birth to AIM - the official SAT prep provider for American International School of Kingston (AISK) and Campion College. It is an educational consultancy company dedicated to providing comprehensive admission advisory and test prep services to students and their families. She told Flair that the day she met fellow educational consultant Bedi Walker, her life changed. He appreciated the cause and immediately began referring students to her. He is her current business partner. As her business expanded, she realised she needed a team. "I had to be very patient. I have had to pray about it, and I had to have a good support system. Anybody working with me would have to be committed to excellence and share my passion for helping these students improve. It's not about a pay cheque. The right tutors have come, over time, and I am very grateful for my dedicated team." Her team also includes family. "I'm happy to have my mother, who is a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, on my team. She has contributed significantly in teaching English across the board, as English affects all areas of study." She points out that if members of her team are not getting across to the students, she has to let them go. "There is no one formula to teaching. The key to any test prep programme is that you have to understand the test and what strategies you need to pass the test, practising these tests over and over again with the right approach. It is a very specific type of test, so you have to study in a particular way, I got the training, and trained my staff to execute this. These students have to work very hard because we drive them to, getting them in the right attitude to learn and want to do the work. Content for SATs is important, so students signing on to the programme have to undergo mock exams every single Sunday. You have to also feed off the energy of your students too and relate to them." Her warm and infectiously bright personality, coupled with her dedication, has resulted in an improvement rate 10 times more than the rate of the United States. So far, she has placed students at Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, Colombia, Duke, Georgetown, Uninversity of Miami, Oxford and the University of Toronto, just to name a few. "I don't just work with high achievers, I work with different types of students and strive to get them highly motivated to do their best, and reach their highest potential. The whole package is important and our aim is to get these students into the best institutions that not only reflect their academia, but fit their personality as well. College is all about the experience." Campbell also works closely with parents in achieving and exceeding the desired results.
She attributed her devotion to service and success to her mentors, especially her mother, who maintained a career while being a single mother to three. Now that she is a mother, she understands the work, and has a greater respect for her and her father, who always told her that good was never enough, and always pushed her to be the best.
Family and Career
She told Flair that balancing career and family is almost impossible. "A solid support system is essential, you have to have people around you who believe in you. Having a good husband and understanding family and friends keeps me level-headed. I have yet to achieve a balanced life, but I learn from the parents of my students as we share this common ground. Balance is a matter of understanding that there is no balance." To make it work, Campbell carves out specific time to spend with her children and stepdaughter who visits every weekend. "I enjoy every moment with all three of them and get in that family time. With my husband I try to be a good wife and I keep my relationship with my husband high on my agenda. It is hard sometimes because he travels a lot for work, and often works at nights when I work during the days, so the timing is sometimes off and that is a challenge. But you just have to support each other." She explains that keeping the line of communication open is very important and she cannot go a day without talking to him. She also spends time on herself being a 'girly girl'.
Campbell's focus is her students. "I want to continue delivering value and good results. I want to continue teaching and learning from my students and extended families." Her advice to others wanting to follow in her path of teaching, entrepreneurship or both: "Be passionate about what you do. You have to have the ability to hang in there and stay there when it gets hard. If you love what you do, believe in it, fulfil your purpose. Get good mentors and a good support system to learn from and lean on."